Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, Paul Castelino
Life changes for college students make mental health a considerable topic of conversation. Mental well-being is important for students to have a positive experience while in school. Paul Castelino, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Ohio University, discusses how students can attain optimal mental health during their college years.
“College years and early adulthood years are both exciting and stressful,” says Castelino. “(College students) go through a lot of changes … making new friends and being more independent.” It’s exciting because it’s a great time to explore and discover oneself, however, being away from home, new academic expectations, struggling to make new friends and overuse of alcohol and drugs can cause stress. Over time, if not managed well, it can lead to debilitating stress and mental illness. To reverse the effects of stress or mental illness, Castelino suggests that students improve mental health by:
Striving for Real-Life Connections
Castelino mentions the importance of fostering authentic connections while in college. He also explains that building a circle of friends might take time when away from family and friends from high school.
“In our fast-paced life, social media and virtual connectivity — although (they) have many benefits — can also lead to stress,” Castelino says. Establishing real-life connections with peers can prevent the negative outcome of isolation.
As with anything, it’s important to remember that students might have different social needs.
“While some (students) like to hang out with large groups of people, others are content with one or two close friends,” Castelino says.
Taking Time to Adjust to College Expectations
“It is not uncommon for students who did well in high school to struggle in college,” Castelino says. As academics become increasingly more challenging in college, students sometimes struggle to balance studies with the freedom of their new independence.
While they might have been straight-A students in high school, college is a huge adjustment. It might take some students more time to learn to prioritize their schedule and to develop time management skills than others. Taking the time to learn these things can make mental health easier to attain.
Building Mental Resilience and Practicing Self-Care
Even as students make friends and develop organizational skills, it’s important to remember the challenges of college life will still occur. Students have many choices to make each day from how they care for themselves to how seriously they take studying. Castelino emphasizes that making healthy lifestyle choices can improve a student’s ability to maintain mental health at times when several choices must be made.
“In order to have good mental health (when students have lots of choices to make), it is important to make time for healthy meals, get sufficient sleep, engage in regular exercise, and good time management,” Castelino says. Healthy ways of relaxing such as meditation or nature hike and practicing gratitude have been shown to increase mental wellbeing.
Focusing on Personal Strengths
As students adjust to their new academic and social needs at different paces, Castelino notes that it’s okay that everybody’s college experience is unique. However, the urge for one student to compare their experiences to their peers can lead to a downfall in mental health.
“Each person has their own unique strengths, and (students comparing themselves) to a roommate or classmate can result in self-deprecation and a loss of confidence.”
When mental health does take a turn, Castelino reminds everybody not to suffer from stress, depression, trauma or anxiety in silence. OHIO’s CPS program has numerous resources to help these students deal with stressors that have an impact on life and academics. CPS accepts drop-ins and has Let’s Talk hours where students can simply talk to counselors about their mental health and well-being.